EASA, 2006: EASA06: Europe and the world
Bristol, UK, 18/09/2006 – 21/09/2006
Transnational religious networks and their European emplacement
Location MVB 1.11a
Date and Start Time 19 Sep, 2006 at 11:30
The workshop seeks to explore how religious place-making in Europe emerges from the ways in which new migrants change or redefine their ideas about belief, ritual, locality and sacred space.
In the last decade, due to processes of globalisation, large numbers of new migrants have come to Europe from different parts of the world. Migrants can be seen to privilege religion within the process of place-making as they re-configure religious ideas, symbolisms, practices and organisations in the service of their transcontinental relations and their local embeddedness. Often churches, mosques, shrines, temples and other places of worship function as markers of place-making, yet their meaning and significance as linchpins in processes of diasporic religious emplacement may change considerably through migration and adaptation. In addition, Europe also shows that religious place-making by migrants can be the site of contestation and conflict, turning it into a delicate and complex process. This workshop seeks to explore how religious place-making in Europe emerges from the ways in which these migrants transport and introduce religious ideas, practices and sacred objects from one place to another, while simultaneously changing or redefining their ideas about belief, ritual, locality and sacred space in the process. In addition to 'internal' changes, differences and even conflicts about religious place-making, the workshop investigates experiences of migrants in Europe with regard to the ways in which religious place-making may also lead to 'external' conflicts and contestations in a specific locality. In particular, the workshop is interested in the question of the shifting interdependencies between place-making, locality and religion in the production of diasporic religious identities in Europe. It seeks to understand the importance of these interdependencies for the travelling of religious authorities, believers (such as in pilgrimages), material (videos, books), relics and even spirits, but also ventures to investigate religious emplacement as a contested process in present-day Europe.
Chair: Gertrud Hüewelmeier and Rijk van Dijk
'Heaven on earth': religious place-making through the claim of 'internationalism' in an African-initiated Pentecostal Church in Berlin - Germany
Many of the African migrants living in Germany are Christians. They established own religious communities in the diaspora. Most of these African Churches have regional, national and transnational networks with African, German and other Churches. One of them is a Pentecostal Church in Berlin, the "International Church of Berlin" (ICB).
The pastor of the ICB, who started the Church with African members only (mostly from Ghana and Nigeria), today emphasises the Church to be "truly" international. In fact, besides members from different African countries, there are also members from Eastern and Southern Europe as well as Germans. In this process of religous place-making, conflicts emerged through the claim of "Internationalism" and small groups left the ICB to found own religous communities. Since 1998 the pastor of the ICB established three branches in Accra, Ghana and one in Lome, Togo, to where he travels periodically. He is doing "apostolic work" there and mediates and instructs the pastors of the branches. Another transnational relationship was built with a pastor from Nigeria, who visits as often as possible the ICB in Berlin, while in Nigeria he arranges i.a. big prayer meetings for Germany.
In my lecture, I first will outline the process of establishing and maintaining national and transnational networks, including the travelling of Pastors as religious authorities. Secondly, I will focus on the conflicts which emerged during the creation of an "international" versus an "African" identity in the process of diasporic religious emplacement.
Emplaced in scrap yards, transit sheds and wasteland: migrant churches in north-east London
Due to the difficulty to find a place which is affordable and tolerant to noisy worship, more and more churches founded by African migrants in London rent old store-houses, garages and industrial depots. In North East London, one finds more than ten African churches in the Lea Valley industrial park. The area consists of large derelict industrial land, much of which is fragmented and divided by waterways, overhead pylons, roads, and heavy rail lines.
The churches are difficult to find. Hidden behind scrap metal, next to dealer's garages and repair shops they share the place with other migrant entrepreneurs, most of them from Eastern Europe. They observe the churches suspiciously but mainly ignore them. Thus we find a strange parallel existence in which marginalised groups and newcomers appropriate space for their means but do not engage with the locality as a social space. The emplacement in parallel, transient worlds is underlined by the ways in which church members move in and out of their church premises, dressed in their best clothes, passing workshops and scrap, before immersing in or emerging from the ritual space of the church rooms. The paper will argue that these churches create spiritual spaces in post industrial places by functioning as a kind of unrecognised urban avant-garde.
Transnational sensibilities in European emplacement: Ghanaian Pentecostal negotiations of the public domain in the Netherlands
his paper looks at the question to what extent the place-making of migrant religions in Europe involves or requires specific strategies or modalities for the ways in which sensibilities in the public domain are to be negotiated. In the ways in which migrants in Europe appear to privilege religion in their positioning in the public domain, specific views and practices transpire of how migrant religion is seen to go about this negotiation. By focusing on the presence of the many Ghanaian Pentecostal churches in the Netherlands, the specificities of engaging in place-making in a highly supervised, monitored and taxonomic public domain can be investigated. The paper will show that whereas these transnational churches have developed diverse cultural competences in the way they engage with place-making in various parts of the world, the intricate, burocratic, and highly regulated nature of the access to the public domain in the Netherlands, revolving around issues of settlement, noise-making, staying-permits and the like, are matters for which the Ghanaian leadership has had to develop specific strategies, which this paper will discuss.
The emigrated saint: a Sicilian cult in Germany as duplication of sacred space in the diaspora
Space, place and identity, combined with notions like location and displacement, have become keyconcepts of postmodernist theoretical concern. In a seemingly increasing "deterritorialized epoch" migration, transnational cultural flows, hybrid identities have led to a global situation in which old localizing strategies - like the closed "community", the organic "culture", the "region", the dichotomy of "core and periphery" - had to come under increasing scrutiny. Space and place seemed to lose their conceptual value in anthropological research.
On this climax of theoretical erosion of localized social worlds there arised new approaches which argue against this idea: locality hasn't lost its importance; space and place keep being important points of reference for diasporas in spite of their ability to transcend borders. This approach has to revalue also the meaning of imaginary places, the myth of the place of origin, which adopts relevant functions as identity-anchor and point of reference and orientation for diasporic people. This functions can also be accomplished by religious beliefs and practices, which have been brought along the way by migrants. Although embodying different processes of change the enactment of this religious festivities still represent important tasks in the reappropriation of identity understood in terms of cultural difference.
During different periods between July 2003 and March 2006 I did fieldwork among Sicilian migrants in an industrial city in Southwestern Germany called Sindelfingen, which is well known as the main production site of one of the biggest car producers in Germany. This Sicilians all emigrated originally from Mirabella Imbaccari, an agrotown lying in the Eastern part of the island. Due to the initial labour migration in the mid 1950s and the rapidly increasing chain migration in the following decades almost one third of Mirabella's population (approximately 3.000 persons) is now living in Sindelfingen and its near surroundings.
The biggest religious festivities in honour of the two patron saints of Mirabella, namely the procession of the "Madonna delle Grazie" in August and the Saint Joseph festival in March, always acted as strong forces reunifying Mirabella with its migrants. Beginning in the 1970s, when the necessary social conditions where created through the arrival of entire families, there was a strong revitalisation of this festivals also in Germany. Considering especially one of this religious festivals (the festival of Saint Joseph) I will show how the reinvention of tradition in the host society can work through a - what I would call - "topographic" duplication of sacred space. The topographical notion here has to be understood in its original Greek meaning as "describing/sketching (grafein) a place (topos)." Thus the topographic duplication implicates for me not only the material reconstruction of sacred space (like erecting an altar, covering it with food and offering it to poor people in the name of the saint), but also works as model for different levels of discourse, in which my informants propose a discursive sketch of an "imaginary sacred space". In this sketch they reflect their ideas about what they think as the "original" festival in what they remember to be their "original" town.
Replaced and redefined: a local Andalusian Virgin Mary in the Flemish town of Vilvoorde
The migration of Spanish workmen in the industrial city of Vilvoorde led from the sixties on to a vivid community in which the social life was structured around a few Spanish clubs with football as their major activity. When in 1990 a couple of Spanish youngsters launched the idea to organize a 'romeria', or pilgrimage, neither a 'Virgin' nor a specific devotion was present. Only the fact that the 'romeria' had to go together with the traditionally huge festivity, was clear from the beginning. By agreement the 'Virgen del Rocío', a local Virgen of Andalusia of which the romeria is encredibly famed, was chosen.
Less than ten years later, their local 'Virgen del Rocío' is honoured with a procession in the city, a Spanish mass in the main church, and a pilgrimage towards a huge chapel especially constructed for that reason in the main court of an historic building in a park on the outskirts of the city. There, thousands of people gather during two days to offer flowers to the Virgen and to dance in the typical 'Andalusian'style. The event mobilizes the whole Spanish local community and attracts not only a lot of curious Flemish townsmen but also Spaniards from all over the country and even from the neighbouring countries.
After documenting the highly unusual beginning and growth of this local devotion, the paper will clarify the symbolic meaning in both the use of the local urban space and the negotiations with the Church representatives and the local authorities. Subsequently it shall elucidate the importance of this local devotion as a crystallizing moment around which the actual Spanish community not only came to identify itself but also became more visible and integrated in the larger society. Extended fieldwork in the Andalusian village of Almonte, where the original 'romeria del Rocío' takes place, provides the background to comment on the significance of this local form of devotion and the transformations in the author's native town.
Snack bar spirits: religious practices of Vietnamese migrants in Berlin
After northern vietnamese troops invaded the southern capital Saigon in 1975, the country was united as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam the following year. Thousands of refugees left south vietnam as "boat people" and settled in the US and Western Europe. Many of them came to West- Germany and West-Berlin. Some of them are catholics, others are buddhists. At the same time, in the 1970s, the communist North of Vietnam sent students and "contract workers" to the former GDR, German Democratic Republic. In 1990, after the "Wende", some 60 000 Vietnamese citizens were living in the eastern part of Germany. They considered themselves atheists, but were worshiping ancestor spirits in their homes. After the unification of Germany some of the former "contract workers" started to visit the buddhist pagoda in West Berlin, a place in the outskirts of the city. Those who are catholic joined a special vietnamese service, practiced by a vietnamese priest. Others revitalised religious practices in the eastern part of the city: Hundreds of shops and snack bars have been opened by Vietnamese migrants, huge vietnamese markets were founded in the "nowhere" land of east Berlin, on the grounds of former socialist factories. The shopkeepers and the owners of small restaurants have installed altars and
shrines in their stores, honoring spirits, who protect the family and guarantee the success of the business. This paper explores religious place making of Vietnamese migrants as a contested process in present day Germany. It argues that religious identities are reproduced along political lines, and religious places and ritual spaces are to be find in the most remote areas of the city.
Identity construction, negotiation and strategies: the transnational religious community of Sikh migrants in Reggio Emilia (Italy)
In 2000, one of the biggest sikh temple (gurdvara) of Europe was inaugurated in a small town (Novellara) in the district of Reggio Emilia, Northern Italy. Indian sikh migration in this area started in the late '70s and thanks to an intense kinship based migration process, it developed into a well-established community. In the town of Novellara there are different places of worship: a sikh temple, a mosque, a hindu temple and catholic churches. Unlike other religious communities, sikhs succeeded in building a self-financed worship place that gives visibility to the whole community. Gurdvara is not only a religious space but also a social and identity space, linked with the local and transnational community through media, travelling authorities, kinship networks. In this paper I will focus on the temple as an identity space, arguing that it represents a space both of "internal" negotiation (within the religious community) and of "external" mediation and self-representation (with the "dominant" Italian society and with other minorities). With "internal" negotiation I refer to the gradual predominance of a specific orthodox identity (khalsa) through the promotion of baptism (initiation), religious discourses and education of young generations. A special attention will be paid to the consequences on gender identity. Even if there's a strong pressure on baptism carried on also on a transnational level, sikh community is not homogeneous and non-khalsa sikh are a predominant part of the community. On the other side, external negotiation passes through strategies of self representation, for instance in occasion of public religious performances. I will conclude exploring the elaboration of diasporic narratives elaborated by the local and transnational community, relating them to the process of identity construction in migration.
Going rural and urban at the same time: reflections from the Roman Sikh context
Preliminary researches conducted over the last decade show that Italy has assisted to a consistent rural to rural Sikh migration, more similar to California than to other European countries, and account specific rural areas (in particular the Po Valley in Northern Italy) as major places of settlement.
A noticeable exception to this general frame of analysis is constituted by the capital city of Rome. Though a majority, in fact, not all Sikhs are rural settlers, and this is especially true in Rome area, where Punjabi migrants are scattered in the outskirts but also in town, where they run small businesses both in the formal and informal sector.
This paper aims to highlight some considerations emerging from an ongoing ethnographic research I am carrying out at the local Gurdwara of Fiumicino, in the outer edges of Rome, as well as around two ashrams owned by Italian converted Sikhs, which are hosting some Sikh migrants as well. All these sites seem to question the separation of urban versus rural contexts, since they act respectively as community centres for Sikhs living in town and neighbouring villages, and as places of residence from where to commute for professional purposes downtown.
In this perspective, the 'Sikh case' is a good example to take on further reflections on the changing urban shape of Rome, which appears constantly transformed, over the last decades, by the increasing expansion of suburban areas; such restructuring has interested too the way migrants choose where to work and live.